Written by: Joshua Williamson
Art by: Shawn Crystal and John Rauch
The fastest way to make me be your friend is to mention the word “Illuminati”. The fastest way to make me hit you with a dustbin to the face is to follow it up with “—but cool”. Which I suppose gives away my feelings about Marvel’s “Illuminati” from the start but when have I ever been one to hold up a tease until the end? See “Illuminati” has been my second favorite Marvel team ever since way back when Black Panther told them all it would be a bad idea so they did it anyway. Because the purpose of the team was that they were so egotistical and mistrustful of the universe at large that they made horrendous and egregious mistakes all in deep secret and then all slowly blamed it all on Tony Stark. That’s the formula, that’s how you make success which is what they should have told the new guy when he set out to write it.
Since its inception, the Illuminati were there to pull invisible strings behind the curtain, to do the things others would deign as ethically dark or even all out maniacal. Even when the team came under the control of Norman Osborn, he still did the big things that needed to be done to keep the world spinning. So here comes Parker Robins, the Red Hood whose magical talents are only exceeded by his bastardliness. He assembling a new team of Illuminati, only this time they’re all villains—oh, color me intrigued. So then, his grand plans must be something darker, more sinister if he wants moral authority chucked from the cart before the flag waves. And it turns out he wants to steal some stuff from Asguard.
That’s it? Deadpool has stolen junk from Thor, why not just save the time and hire him? He is a mercenary. But no, Parker Robins whole plan is to assemble a cadre of the most third rate thugs in the Marvel universe and trick them into working for him instead of sneaking in himself—he has teleportation after all. So I have a question, in what way is this team of people the Illuminati?
I think it’s a legitimate question. In every iteration of the team, every member is a personality, a presence that makes his views known and his necessity to the team unmistakable. Hell, Steve Rogers was on the team for all of five panels and even when he was gone the members left over still felt his impact. Instead, Parker gathered together the legion of cardboard standees—almost literally, the only time we see the members of the team is when Parker Robins walks Titania past a room where they are all posed. That’s it! A single panel, say their name and then they’re gone. They might as well just handed Titania a pamphlet with names and photos. What a shameful way to bring back a team. Even back when Blackbolt was on the team and didn’t say a single word he still commanded a presence from the group and the reader.
Perhaps I’m being more critical of this book because the previous teams have been held in such high regard but it doesn’t help that some of the dialogue was as subtle as a mallet made of dynamite and blasting caps. Not only was Parker Robins as mustache twirling evil as Snidely Whiplash, he was twice as campy. The rest of the book isn’t much better, there’s one point in the book when She-Hulk confronts Titania and she says, “When you use my first name like that, I know you mean business, Mary.” At which point I laughed for a good minute because it sounded as rough as the 1-800-CONTACTS commercial where the guy has “Special Eyes”. See, I have nothing against camp, comic books are rife with over the top ridiculousness. The trouble is that tone doesn’t fit with the Illuminati at all. Why do these guys have to be the Illuminati? It’s clear Joshua Williamson doesn’t want to write the Illuminati. He can have that whole cast of characters and call it literally anything else. I’m serious, he could call it “Illuminati Also” and I’d be one hundred percent on board. Just leave the Illuminati alone.
Instead of comparing “Illuminati” to a team that formed in “Invincible”, I think it’s more prudent to compare it to an individual, namely Allen the Alien. See, Allen was introduced into the book as the primary enforcer against the Viltrumites. But in the story Thaddeus, his mentor and leader of the coalition of planets is killed. At that point Allen had to take over the political leadership role, something he was not at all trained for and he tried to both keep the spirit that Thaddeus imbued while giving the role his own flavor. Now Parker Robbins didn’t just think up the Illuminati, he’s using the name because he was part of the Illuminati during Dark Reign. If he were to form the group but try and learn from the sins of the past it would make an infinitely more interesting read.